Most are sad to see us go. ‘You’re the best rector we’ve ever had.’ Beware Irish charm. The most common comments have been ‘a breath of fresh air’, ‘don’t know how you stuck it so long’, ‘good sermons’ and ‘we’ll really miss you both’ (I’ve long held that SWMBO is a better rector’s wife than I’m a rector). There have been tears. Such responses, the majority, have been affirming. Of course there have been a few negative comments. There’s a sense of satisfaction in some quarters, for ‘you can be controversial, but we’ve tolerated you.’
Some comments relate to the nasty mess that I inherited, that escalated between my appointment and arrival, and that goes on and on. Remarks on how I handled it range from my having been too bullish to my not having been firm enough. I must have got it right, so. Anyway, my shoes contain my feet, and nobody else ever stood in them.
It’s easy to let negative comments weigh more than the positives, but I want to tease out some of them. They’ve included: ‘you’re not one of us’, ‘you don’t understand’ and ‘this is not your culture, so you don’t realize what happens.’
- First, it’s quite likely that someone looking from outside sees exactly what happens better than people in the midst of it all.
- Second, these comments implicitly assert that clergy should be emasculated lapdogs who never challenge those in the circled wagons. Just like Jesus I don’t think (though perhaps he’s been emasculated too).
- Third, they imply that the clergy of the future will be ‘one of us’. The trouble is that ‘one of us’ is not in the clergy-training pipeline. AFAIK there are no ordinands from this group of dioceses, and certainly none from these parishes. My successor is unlikely, therefore, to be ‘one of us’. Yes, more could be done to encourage ordained local ministry by ‘one of us’, though you’d have to beat sense into the Bishops’ ideas for training to be a real possibility for real people with real jobs. Good luck with that.
Members of the Church of Ireland will have to get used to clergy not being ‘one of us’. They may even have to tolerate yet another immigrant from—God forbid—England. Or Africa or America. If incoming clergy need sensitivity and flexibility, then so do the flocks they tend. Any expectation that ‘our ways’ rule the roost has to go—particularly if ‘our ways’ are no longer acceptable. People will have to grow beyond the culture of entitlement, profound in these parts. And there needs to be a rethink of the concept of ‘confidentiality’ that means passing things on by behind-the-hand and corner-of-the-mouth mutterings. Or telling only one person at a time.
I have learnt a huge amount in the last 32 months. Cross fertilization is essential for a healthy organism.